April 17, 2014

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Sunlight on NASED ITA Reports

Short version: we now have gobs of voting system ITA reports, publicly available and hosted by the NSF ACCURATE e-voting center. As I explain below, ITA’s were the Independent Testing Authority laboratories that tested voting systems for many years.

Long version: Before the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) took over the testing and certification of voting systems under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), this critical function was performed by volunteers. The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) recognized a need for voting system testing and partnered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to establish a qualification program that would test systems as having met or exceeded the requirements of the 1990 and 2002 Voting System Standards.*

However, as I’ve lamented many, many times over the years, the input, output and intermediate work product of the NASED testing regime were completely secret, due to proprietary concerns on behalf of the manufacturers. Once a system completed testing, members of the public could see that an entry was made in a publicly-available spreadsheet listing the tested components and a NASED qualification number for the system. But the public was permitted no other insight into the NASED qualification regime.

Researchers were convinced from what evidence was available that the quality of the testing was highly inadequate and that the expertise didn’t exist within either the testing laboratories to perform adequate testing or the NASED technical committee to competently review the ultimate test reports submitted by the laboratories (called Independent Testing Authorities (ITA)). Naturally, when reports of problems started to crop-up, like the various Hursti vulnerabilities with Diebold memory cards, the NASED system scrambled to figure out what went wrong.

I know have more moderate views with respect to the NASED regime: sure, it was pretty bad and a lot of serious vulnerabilities slipped through the cracks, but I’m not yet convinced that just having the right people or a different process in place would have resulted in fewer problems in the field. To have fixed the NASED system would have required improvements on all fronts: the technology, the testing paradigms, the people involved and the testing and certification process.

The EAC has since taken over testing and certification. Their process is notable in its much higher level of openness and accountability; the test plans are published (previously claimed as proprietary by the testing labs), the test reports are published (previously claimed as proprietary by the vendors) and the process is specified in detail with a program manual, a laboratory manual, notices of clarification, etc.

This is all great and it helps to increase the transparency of the EAC certification program. But, what about the past? What about the testing that NASED did? Well, we don’t know much about it for a number of reasons, chief among them that we never saw any of the materials mentioned above that are now available in the new EAC system.

Through a fortunate FOIA request made of the EAC on behalf of election sleuth Susan Greenhalgh, we now have available a slew of ITA reports from one of the ITAs, Ciber.

The reports are available at the following location (hosted by our NSF ACCURATE e-voting center):

http://accurate-voting.org/docs/ita-reports/

These reports cover the Software ITA testing performed by the ITA Ciber for the following voting systems:

  • Automark AIMS 1.0.9
  • Diebold GEMS 1.18.19
  • Diebold GEMS 1.18.22
  • Diebold GEMS 1.18.24
  • Diebold AccuVote-TSx Model D
  • Diebold AccuVote-TSx Model D w/ AccuView Printer
  • Diebold Assure 1.0
  • Diebold Assure 1.1
  • Diebold Election Media Processor 4.6.2
  • Diebold Optical Scan Accumulator Adapter
  • Hart System 4.0
  • Hart System 4.1
  • Hart System 6.0
  • Hart System 6.2
  • Hart System 6.2.1

I’ll be looking at these in my leisure over coming weeks and pointing out interesting features of these reports and the associated correspondence included in the FOIA production.

*The distinction between certification and qualification, although vague, appears to be that under the NASED system, states did the ultimate certification of a voting system for fitness in future elections.